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Business - Written by on Thursday, October 16, 2008 15:40 - 8 Comments

Naumi Haque
Multi-tasking vs. Flow

It’s an ongoing battle of epic proportions taking place in every office of every company in the world – completing tasks efficiently by multi-tasking or effectively by staying “in-the-flow.” I recently came across a post on the teehan+lax blog (they specialize is user-oriented design) that helped summarize the argument. Specifically, the blog links to some interesting arguments that have me thinking about productivity and (capital ‘F’) Flow.

Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” describes Flow as:

“Being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

Benjamin B. Bederson, “Interfaces for Staying in the Flow” uses the following diagram to explain Flow as the channel between challenge and skill; the tension between anxiety and boredom:

Contrast this with what we now know about multi-tasking; specifically, that multi-tasking is not so much about doing multiple things at once, but rather efficiently switching between tasks. From the 2001 NY Times article “How to Multitask“:

“Don’t think you can actually do two things at once. Even when you think you’re doing more than one thing simultaneously—say, driving and talking on a cell phone—you aren’t. Unlike a computer, the brain isn’t structured as a parallel processor. It performs actions, even very simple actions, in a strict linear sequence. You must complete the first task, or part of that task, before moving on to the next. What we call multitasking is actually task switching.”

It strikes me that businesses and technology vendors have done a lot of thinking about how improve productivity through multi-tasking, but little thought has gone into the importance of Flow in a knowledge work environment.



8 Comments

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Bookmarks for October 15th through October 17th | Bieber Labs
Oct 17, 2008 8:01

[...] Wikinomics » Blog Archive » Multi-tasking vs. Flow – "It’s an ongoing battle of epic proportions taking place in every office of every company in the world – completing tasks efficiently by multi-tasking or effectively by staying “in-the-flow.”" [...]

Daryl Kulak
Oct 19, 2008 13:12

Wow, this is a great observation. I hope to see more on this on the Wikinomics blog. Please expand!!

Annelies
Oct 20, 2008 7:40

My compliments for the diagram. It makes clear in one blink of an eay the need for both: the ability to multitask AND the necessity to get in to flow in able to be really effective in work and life.

Very useful! Thx for sharing.

Annelies
Oct 20, 2008 7:42

eay = eye

Wanneer ben je nou echt effectief? « Nodi Novi’teiten
Oct 20, 2008 8:07

[...] Naumi Haque viel het op dat er wel veel technologie is ontwikkeld om het multitasken te ondersteunen maar weinig instrumenten om ‘in flow’ te komen. [...]

Wikinomics» Blog Archive » Diminishing Returns of Collaboration
Jun 15, 2009 18:06

[...] who’s actually doing the deep thinking needed to solve complex problems? We talk about the multitasking Net Gen brain that is not actually doing multiple things at once, but rather switching more [...]

Diminishing Returns of Collaboration « Fredzimny’s CCCCC Blog
Jul 6, 2009 15:02

[...] who’s actually doing the deep thinking needed to solve complex problems? We talk about the multitasking Net Gen brain that is not actually doing multiple things at once, but rather switching more [...]

Naumi Haque
Sep 3, 2009 13:03

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